Is it any wonder that English football’s League Cup competition is going through the doldrums?
In recent seasons, the interest from clubs, their managers and football supporters has gradually dwindled to the point where no one is really interested and then until the very latter stages.
The majority of Premier League teams seem to think it is second-rate competition. Many are ‘competing’ in Europe, in either the Champions League or Europa League (formats which are jokes in themselves!) and see it as an unwelcome distraction. Hence those ‘in Europe’ don’t come into the competition until the 3rd round – and even then fielded vastly under-strength sides, the ‘bigger picture’ being the Premier League and/or European competition. The remainder of the Premier League teams not worthy of being in Europe come into things in the second round, and as exemplified by this week’s second round equally see it as a pain in the rear by making five, six, and seven changes to their weekend sides.
And it has started already. Stoke – not in Europe, so a good chance of a cup run (or so you’d think) if taken seriously. They made changes from the weekend. Several. The result? Deservedly turned over by Paolo Di Canio’s on-the-up Swindon
If that was bad, that apathy has now even crept into clubs from the nPower Championship; and this week they deservedly paid the penalty in the 2nd round of the Capital One Cup. Leicester v Burton for example; local derby you would think – especially for Burton, yet the Foxes made 7 changes to their side from the weekend, and they ended up being ditched out of the comp on the back of a 4-2 Burton win. Great stuff, and great for Burton, and bragging rights to boot (excuse the pun). I hoped they’d get the big money home draw they wanted, but they didn’t (Burton have never had a home draw in the League Cup, can you believe that?)
Bolton, another case of not bothering, losing late on at Crawley with a side that had wholesale changes to that of the weekend.
Just three very recent examples of the contempt of the competition which has been going on for a few years now.
As a result, crowds at matches in rounds 1 to 4 of the competition have suffered. After all, unless you are a die-hard supporter and one who is keen to see their team regardless of who they put out, who wants to see a team of fringe and youth team players? Reducing ticket prices won’t help, and it has showed.
And is it any wonder that the League Cup’s sponsor and naming rights has changed so many times in recent years. Capital One Cup this year, Carling Cup, Coca Cola Cup. You name it!
The solution? For my mind, it’s simple. Boot out from the start all the big-time Charlie Premiership clubs who obviously feel it is not worthy of their attention by fielding a virtual second string team of fringe, reserve and youth players. Let those clubs that actually want to take it seriously and win the cup and have a day at Wembley get on with it. When those so-called ‘big’ clubs are eventually knocked out of Europe – e.g I’m talking the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, they should not be allowed to think they have got the League Cup to fall back on to earn a bit of silverware.
Ok, so you may end up with a final between Burnley and Wigan (no disrespect to either of those teams, especially the latter who put out my beloved NFFC on Tuesday), but wouldn’t that be refreshing for once, opposed to the staid, boring Utd v City, Chelsea v Arsenal , Liverpool v Chelsea tedium that eventually seems to fall into place come March.
The alternative or possible addition is to fine those teams that willingly field under-strength sides, and then fine them heavily. And then boot them out of the competition, and ban them from entering for at least the following season.
The message should be simple. You’re in it to win it. It’s a cup competition with decades of history and tradition (ok, not as much as the FA Cup), so take it seriously.
If not, don’t bother turning up and turning out. And let those who actually want to win it, go ahead and get after it.